Rolling Out a Marketing Campaign for the Greatest Weekend in College Football

To raise awareness of the CFP National Championship weekend, a Bay Area advertising agency decides to embrace and promote a stadium-sized mystery

Let’s face it. There is a big question about January’s championship weekend in Northern California.

Specifically, the big question is how to best convey the magnitude of what is about to descend on the South Bay and capture the attention of the Bay Area’s population for college football’s title ,with a busy Bay Area audience often more focused on  pro sports, the newest pinot noir release or the coolest IPO offering. Not necessarily in that order.

So how do you answer that big question?

By posing another question: “GUESS WHO’S COMING?”

That’s the master plan of Brian Bacino, anyway.

Bacino is among the primary brains behind the Bay Area 2019 advertising campaign that is scheduled to soon overwhelm billboards, radio speakers and television sets across area codes from Monterey to Marin.

The “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” campaign, is about getting people interested in which two teams will make it to Levi’s Stadium on the night of January 7, to decide the College Football Playoff national champion. But it also is a teaser for the entire four days of activity that will cater to families, as well as fans, and so much more. 

“The question gets you excited,” says Bacino. “You know, that’s what your mom asks or tells you when your favorite uncle is going to visit.”

Except in this case, the uncle will be bringing along dozens of players and thousands of fans. The uncle will also bring two marching bands, two potentially furry mascots and two potentially non-furry (but likely laser-beam intense) head coaches.

Bacino is the chief creative officer for Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco. He and two other Baker Street team members, Bob Dorfman and Corey Stolberg, were tasked by the Bay Area 2019 Host Committee to convey the mojo that will envelop downtown San Jose and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara during the weekend of the game—particularly the events that will allow local fans to interact with the championship environment, the two competing teams and their followers.

The Ultimate Two And You, as it were.

And so, the “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” strategy was born. It was adapted to various posters and digital platforms. The words were accompanied by an image of Levi’s Stadium and a blank four-team bracket to represent the four teams that will be selected for the playoff format in December.

Throughout autumn, multiple “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” billboards will be seen across the area. Radio ads are already airing, with various voices taking stabs at which two teams will eventually reach Santa Clara. Television commercials are also in the pipeline.

More adventurously, a “takeover” is underway at Silicon Valley’s busy rail station in Mountain View. Bacino is calling it a “station domination.” All signs on the platforms where CalTrain and VTA Light Rail converge to off their passengers will feature Bay Area 2019 graphics. A film crew from Baker Street will be on hand to record peoples’ reactions and utilize their sound bites in another series of television commercials.  

Bacino expects that the Mountain View train commuters’ awareness for the January game will run the gamut from very strong “can’t wait” to very “huh?”, which is fine.  This is an opportunity to engage those who are already college football enthusiasts, and those who will have the opportunity to be – if they take advantage of all the exciting elements surrounding the national championship game. Bacino’s ad agency is named after Sherlock Holmes’ address in the famous detective novels. And he knows there’s no mystery that capturing the full attention of the diverse Bay Area is a challenge. But he sees it as an invigorating one for his Baker Street colleagues. The decision five years ago to play the College Football Playoff National Championship at a neutral site has given the Bay Area the opportunity to host the sport’s apex night for the first time.  That’s definitely something new and shiny to tout.

Also, while Northern California can sometimes be slow to focus on the particulars, the fact that the Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl are playoff sites and will host the national semifinals on December 29 should make the Bay Area sit upright and understand what will be at stake when the winners of those two games show up a week later at Levi’s Stadium, right in the neighborhood.  The ad campaign is designed to both build anticipation and juice up the enthusiasm for when the two teams—and their out-of-town followers –arrive. The “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” meme should leave no doubt that something fun will be happening the first weekend of January in Santa Clara and in downtown San Jose. The slogan and/or signage will also appear on bus shelters, radio talk shows, social media, the ABC Saturday Night college football game telecasts on local affiliate KGO-TV, plus various popup events.

 “Perhaps this is not a traditional college football market, but it has great football traditions,” said Bob Dorfman. “And this is not only the pinnacle of college football, it is even a bigger story for the Bay Area.  It’s an event, a big event. And the Bay Area turns out for those. So the goal is to continue to ensure everyone in the Bay Area understands how big it is.”

The goal is also to get a conversation started about which teams might ultimately show up here and to connect the whole big sandwich to the high-tech landscape surrounding the game location. That’s also covered in the “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” imagery.

“It’s kind of subtle,” says Bacino. “But you might also notice that the brackets are designed to look like circuitry, as a reference to Silicon Valley.”

Ryan Oppelt, director of the Bay Area 2019 Host Committee, was happy when he saw the campaign theme for another reason on another level.

“The ‘Guess Who’s Coming’ theme is about much more than the two teams,” said Oppelt. “It’s about which musical acts might be coming when the free concerts for the game weekend are announced in November. It’s about which celebrity chefs might be coming for the Taste of the Championship event when we announce that later in the season. It’s about which marching bands will be coming along with their teams.”  

This explains why, as Oppelt sees one of the “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” billboards or hears a “GUESS WHO’S COMING?” commercial on his drives down Bay Area freeways, his blood starts pumping a little faster.

“It’s also our ‘Hearts and Minds’ campaign locally,” Oppelt says.

The hearts of the Bay Area have always had a proclivity for both spectator and participatory sports.  The minds of the Bay Area have always been intrigued by things that are new and significant to the region.

The favorite uncle is coming to town. By January, he definitely won’t be sneaking into town unnoticed.      

Guess who’s coming? The plan is, everybody.